South Korean First Lady Kim Jung-sook arrives in New Delhi

Ms. Kim has been invited to attend the groundbreaking ceremony of a park in Ayodhya dedicated to Indian-born Korean Queen Heo Hwang-ok.

Political symbolism and shared history drive the four-day visit of South Korea’s First Lady Kim Jung-sook, who arrived here on Sunday, said Seoul’s envoy to India.

Ms. Kim has been invited to attend the groundbreaking ceremony of a park in Ayodhya dedicated to Indian-born Korean Queen Heo Hwang-ok.

Queen Heo, originally named Princess Suriratna, is believed to have travelled to the Korean city of Gimhae from Ayodhya in AD 42 as a 16 year old.

The park with a monument was first built in 2000, but is being enlarged with the help of a grant of land from the Uttar Pradesh government.

‘An extraordinary visit’

“The most important thing is the political symbolism that Korea and India agree that we have this special connect from 2,000 years ago. This kind of symbolism is very important,” Ambassador Shin Bongkil said in an interview to The Hindu, explaining that Ms. Kim’s visit is “very extraordinary”, as it is the first time a South Korean First Lady has travelled alone for an official visit in 16 years.

“The fact that [President Moon Jae-in] is sending the First Lady in her own capacity, which is a first for any foreign country, means that the President puts a lot of emphasis on strengthening relations with India,” he added.

The First Lady will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, before travelling to Uttar Pradesh, where she will visit the existing park, and the site for the new park, as well as attend Deepavali celebrations along the banks of the Saryu river.

The link with Ayodhya is considered important in South Korea as more than 10% of its population belongs to the influential Kim-Heo clan that Queen Heo and King Kim founded, and many Koreans come as tourists to India each year to visit the park.

“More and more Koreans would like to know their roots and there is an interest in India, which is growing as a world power. From the Indian side, the leadership has always made a point to mention this common history,” Mr. Shin said.

To a question, the Ambassador said the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi land dispute in Ayodhya had had no impact on the South Korean project for a park that was first planned in 1991. After a monument to Queen Heo was unveiled there in 2000, India and South Korea decided to develop Gimhae and Ayodhya as “sister cities.”

Ms. Kim’s visit comes days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi was awarded the Seoul Peace Prize by a South Korean foundation, but the Ambassador said the two events were coincidental.

“The foundation that awards this prize is totally independent, and even the government (of South Korea) learnt about the award only after the announcement, so they are not connected,” he said.

Dismissing street protests by about 20 Korean non-governmental organisations against the award to Mr. Modi, Ambassador Shin said, “In Korea, NGO activities are very strong, and we have more than 20,000 officially registered NGOs. They always express their opinions on events in Korea, and they are free to do so. The government doesn’t interfere in this kind of thing.”

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Printable version | Apr 6, 2020 10:49:27 PM |

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